Losing weight and keeping it off is challenging under any circumstances, but combine that with a sedentary job, vending machine food, and office treats and weight loss can seem like an impossible task.
If workplaces could instead help people lose weight, businesses could save a lot of money – from less illness and lower healthcare costs. And if more Americans were at a healthy weight, as many as 116,000 cases of cancer could be prevented every year.
Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests how workplaces can help. This preliminary randomized control trial tested whether educating employees about healthy eating, combined with a supportive workplace environment, could help overweight and obese employees lose weight.
For the intervention group, 84 participants at two work sites completed a six month weight loss program and of those, 40 continued with six months more for maintenance. These employees lost on average, 17.5 pounds during the six-month intervention. During the following six-months, they kept the weight off. They also showed improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
The control group participants – at two different work sites – signed up for a weight loss program, but were put on a wait list. This group, on average, gained about 2 pounds during the first six months.
For the intervention, nutritionists taught employees about portion control, tracking and monitoring food, dietary variety, goals, and managing eating out and holidays. Menu ideas that focused on high fiber (at least 40 g fiber/day) and low-glycemic index foods were provided. Even the employees at the intervention work sites not in the weight loss group lost a few pounds (almost 3). These employees had the option to attend health and nutrition monthly seminars and received newsletters focusing on health and nutrition program. These materials were designed to facilitate a supportive atmosphere for the employees in the weight loss program and the fact that all employees lost weight is consistent with previous study results indicating that social networks may share similarities in weight and lifestyle practices.
This study shows greater benefit than many previous work site weight loss studies. In a 2007 systematic review of the literature, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an average weight loss of 2.8 pounds for work site programs.
The CDC offers LEAN Works! – a web-based resource that offers interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design effective worksite obesity prevention and control programs.